Pulse+IT Blog

Pandemic forces change of pace

It has become a cliché in hurry in these unprecedented times but the speed with which the health IT sector has had to adapt to the global pandemic has been stunning to watch. Healthcare usually changes at a snail's pace, for good reason, and health IT is no different. We asked in our poll last week if you thought the health IT industry has successfully risen to the challenge of COVID-19. Not surprisingly, the sector was positive about itself: 79 per cent said yes, 21 per cent said no.

And just as the dealing with a crisis playbook has been thrown out the window, so has years of recalcitrance on the part of the healthcare system and its policy designers in taking up new and not so new technologies. It took a global pandemic to finally get telehealth on the front foot and everyone is doing it now. It has been quite stunning to see how fast the local industry has been in developing solutions for users, with a plethora of video conferencing solutions now available.

ANNAs flattening the curve

If like Pulse+IT these days you are getting your jollies hunting down maps and graphs of the coronavirus outbreak, you might have come across the great work being done by Financial Times data-visualisation journalist John Burn-Murdoch. Each day, he tweets out multiple visualisations of the pandemic and its growth in multiple countries, large and small.

He likes to keep his eye on the disasters in Italy, Spain, the UK and the US of course, but also regularly mentions certain countries that appear to have managed the outbreak pretty well, especially the ANNAs: Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Austria.

eScripts on the fast track

Pulse+IT had a bit of a dig at the announcement a month or so ago by Australia's Department of Health that it would pull off a ”development sprint” over eight weeks to get electronic prescriptions happening in the face of the pandemic.

We were highly cynical that it could be achieved in such a timeframe (and for just $5 million), but we might be laughing on the other side of our smug face soon enough as the GP software vendors seem to have pulled off the miraculous and are now on track to make the capability available next month at the earliest.

When the virus is over

After the virus, are we ever going back? We've been chatting to a number of experts in the field of telehealth this week and the consensus seems to be that now that the dam has broken, it is highly unlikely that we will revert to business as usual after the pandemic is over. Healthcare professionals will see that it is not always necessary for patients to present themselves in person, and we live in hope that funders like Medicare will no longer fear that the system will be rorted and instead embrace the savings and quality of care that can be achieved.

We are closely watching how things are panning out for the healthcare system in locked-down New Zealand, where some general practices simply will not see a patient unless they have been triaged by phone first. Hospitals are doing that for outpatients too, telling patients not to present unless specifically asked to. One DHB has even launched a fundraiser to buy remote monitoring devices for chronically ill patients to try to keep them at home. As Australia's CSIRO showed four years ago, widespread remote monitoring could save billions every year if fully embraced. Now would seem the time to seriously consider it. Things have changed utterly and we don't think they'll ever go back.

Telehealth in the time of coronavirus

Despite the release last Friday by Australia's Department of Health of new item numbers for telehealth, lobbying continued this week by a number of doctors' groups as well as the Consumers Health Forum to allow any patient consultation to be handled by telehealth if clinically appropriate.

There was a slight relaxation of the rules this week to remove the term “usual GP” from the requirements, allowing a doctor from the same practice to see a patient remotely if their usual doctor isn't available. Midwives and obstetricians have also been given item numbers to use telehealth to monitor women remotely, but there is still a great deal of confusion out there.

FHIR engines roll out for COVID-19

The quick response from the health IT sector in Australia and New Zealand to the coronavirus pandemic has been pretty impressive, with software vendors rolling out COVID-19-specific applications at a rate of knots if our technology resources page page is anything to go by.

Vendors are either tailoring new functionality to help with the crisis or in some cases waiving fees to ensure the technology is used when it's needed. An example is online appointment booking service Healthsite, which has very quickly managed to roll out a complete telehealth solution, in association with Tasmanian telehealth provider GP2U, that is integrated with Healthsite's booking system. HealthEngine also provides a similar service and both allow practices to offer private billing as well as bulk billed consultations.

Go hard, go early

As the Australian government ups the national response to the coronavirus outbreak by banning non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, the federal Department of Health on Friday released a package of welcome measures to try to help manage the coronavirus outbreak and the massive pressure it is destined to place on our healthcare system.

The department has made available 30-odd new MBS items that will allow GPs, specialists, nurse practitioners, psychologists and occupational therapists to treat patients remotely, either by video or telephone. The items cover not just those diagnosed with COVID-19 or requested to quarantine themselves, but vulnerable groups like the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.

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